The modest home on a quarter-acre lot in Needham, Mass., had been assessed at $549,300. When it sold for $989,500 in May 2016, Needham's top assessor was surprised to find it "in bad shape." Of the sale, he simply noted: "Makes no sense." It still didn't make sense 17 months later when buyer Jie Zhao, a wealthy Maryland businessman, sold the house he'd never inhabited at a $324,500 loss. A college admissions scandal later, the Boston Globe puts together the pieces: It so happens that Zhao's son was a high school junior looking to apply to Harvard when his father bought the home from none other than Harvard fencing coach Peter Brand. While Zhao later suffered financially, his son not only got into the school—he also made the fencing team, joining his brother who served as captain.
In Zhao's view, there was no unfairness. His son was a talented fencer with a nearly perfect SAT score and a family history at the school. "It's a no-brainer," he says. As for the sale, he claims he was doing a close friend a favor. "I want to help Peter Brand because I feel so sorry he has to travel so much to go to fencing practice," he tells the Globe, which notes Brand's commute was roughly 12 miles. "I don't think there's any violation or anything." Harvard officials aren't so sure. On Thursday, they announced an independent investigation into what could be the first case to taint the school in a nationwide scandal, per the Wall Street Journal. Per the Globe, one policy cited states that failure to disclose conflicts of interest, including "when individual commitment to the University may be compromised by personal benefit," may result in disciplinary action or termination. (Read more college admissions stories.)